2016-06-26 (Day 10) Arvier – La Thuile

This is one of my favorite photos from this years Tour de Travoy. It shows the Monte Bianco in Italian or Mont Blanc in French, which translates as the White Mountain. At 4,808m it is the highest mountain in Europe and as I cycled along the Aosta valley it seemed to get bigger and bigger.

20160626_095812-2Travoy leaving Camping Arvier. I was up around 6 so as to make it to La Thuile in plenty of time to see the Ireland – France game at 3 o’clock but it was nearly 10 before I got everything gathered up and left the campsite.

2016-06-26_StravaTotal cycled today – 30 km. Total so far – 485 km. After an easy start along the Aosta valley, the road really started to climb after I turned off the main road at Pre Saint Didier towards La Thuile.
20160625_135032-2Sign for Gran Fondo La Mont Blanc. The sign says “Sunday June 26. Cycling Gran Fondo La Mont Blanc. Traffic take care between the hours of 10 and 12 in the morning.”. The Gran Fondo La Mont Blanc is one of the toughest sportives in Europe. It starts and finishes in Courmayeur and goes on for 120 km and climbs almost 3,000m. The day before I had noticed signs for the Gran Fondo along the Aosta valley and that the road would be restricted for traffic between 10 and 12 on Sunday morning. I forgot to look at the Gran Fondo website to check the route and assumed that the Gran Fondo made it’s way along the Aosta valley to Courmayeur. In fact, the route took the cyclists up the Colle San Carlo to La Thuile and then down the main road towards Pre Saint Didier. This road was also the road I had hoped to climb on my way to the Petit St Bernard. So unbeknownst to me, I would be going up the climb at the same time as the cyclists in the Gran Fondo were coming down the hill.

20160626_104912-2More cars than cyclists despite all the signs for the Gran Fondo. The Gran Fondo was not taking place on closed roads but there was a lot of signs warning traffic to slow down. Also at every junction, there was a marshall to stop cars turning onto the route of the Gran Fondo until after the cyclists went past. Just beyond this junction for the motorway, a feed station was being set up and I was tempted to stop off and stock up on some energy bars. I think without Travoy, I would have got away with it but anyone would only have to look at my trailer to realise I wasn’t in the Gran Fondo.

20160626_110238-2E25 motorway viaduct. The E25 motorway between Aosta and Courmayeur is 80% of the way in tunnel and there are only short sections where it is visible from the SS26 national road alongside it. This viaduct is near Morgex and about 10 km from here, the motorway enters the Mont Blanc tunnel.

mont-blanc-tunnel-map-2Mont Blanc tunnel. At almost 12 km in length, the Mont Blanc tunnel is one of the longest road tunnels in the world. It opened in 1965 after 6 years work and at that time, was 3 times longer than any other road tunnel in the world. Tolls for one trip through the tunnel from Italy in a car cost €44 while from France the toll is a euro cheaper at €43. To take a camper van through the tunnel costs almost €60 but a return trip only costs €70. The speed limit is 70 kmph but you also have to drive at a minimum speed of 50 kmph. Speeding in the Mont Blanc tunnel can result in a fine of €750 and automatic loss of your licence. There are hundreds of CCTV and speed cameras in the tunnel which were installed following the 1999 fire which killed 38 people. That fire caused the tunnel to be closed for 3 years and traffic has still not recovered to pre-fire levels.

20160626_111859-2Road junction at Pre Saint Didier. I reached Pre Saint Didier around 11 and started the climb towards the Petit St. Bernard. After struggling up the Grand St Bernard in Switzerland, 2 days previously, I wasn’t looking forward to tackling the climb. But while the Petit climb is just as steep as the Grand St Bernard climb, it has much more shade. Also it was much cooler today than on Friday and that really helped.

20160626_114746-2View of Pre Saint Didier from about 2 km into the climb. The Petit St. Bernard climb also has loads of hairpins as you can see from the photo above and because of the Gran Fondo, there was little traffic. After about 2 km into the climb, I couldn’t stop smiling as I was enjoying the climb so much. I felt really fresh and despite the heavy load on Travoy, made good progress up the climb.

20160626_121652-2Elevaz waterfall. About 5 km from Pre Saint Didier is the small village of Elevaz, which is dominated by this huge waterfall.The climb of the Petit St. Bernard has to be one of the best climbs in the world as I was surrounded by stunning scenery and there was very little traffic on the main road. I have a copy of Daniel Friebe’s book “Mountain High : Europe’s 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs” and criminally, the Petit St. Bernard is not included in this book or his follow-up book “Mountain Higher“.

Mountain High and Mountain Higher. To be honest, I can understand why the Petit St. Bernard is not included in either of Daniel Friebe’s books as it rarely features in the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia. Ironically, neither does the Grand St. Bernard but it is is included probably because of it’s history and it’s height. However, the Grand St. Bernard is a terrible climb to cycle up due to the traffic and the 6 km long tunnel. In contrast, the Petit St. Bernard is just stunning with loads of hairpins and breathtaking scenery. Perhaps, in a few years time after a few more Tours de Travoy, I will compile my own list of the 50 best climbs in Europe. So far, I have only tackled a few big climbs, but as of now, the Petit St Bernard would be top of my list.

vlc-record-2016-08-27-20h01m02s-VIRB0045.MP4-.mp4_snapshot_00.22_[2016.08.27_20.04.48]Andrea Gallo, on his way to win the Gran Fondo La Mont Blanc. About 2 km from La Thuile, the SS 26 goes into a tunnel. I put the lights on on my bike and started cycling through it. As I was about 2/3 of the way through, a car went past me in the opposite direction with its horn beeping. The noise from the car horn was really loud  but there was nowhere to pull in and maybe check to see if there was something wrong with my bike or trailer. I couldn’t understand as to why the car had been beeping but then a cyclist appeared in the tunnel followed by a support vehicle with 2 bikes on it’s roof. I immediately copped on what was happening. This was the leader of the Gran Fondo, Andrea Gallo, who was now heading down the hill towards the finish in Courmayeur.

20160626_124031-2Marco Aguzzi, who finished sixth in the Gran Fondo La Mont Blanc.  I had noticed marshalls standing at every junction on the way up the climb but I had no idea what they were doing as there were no signs for the Gran Fondo on the climb. None of them made any attempt to stop me so I assumed it was fine to keep cycling on. However, on exiting the tunnel there was a marshall there who started waving at me to pull in. I no sooner had stopped when the 2nd cyclist in the Gran Fondo went past me and then a minute later the third cyclist. I then waited for about 10 minutes as about 5 other cyclists in the Gran Fondo went past, one of whom is in the photo above.

20160626_123535-2Looking back down the tunnel on the main road to La Thuile. Then out of the tunnel I had just cycled through,  another cyclist appeared and the marshall waved at him to pull in also. But after talking to the marshall, he then started walking up towards the town of La Thuile up the footpath behind a barrier. As I wanted to get to the campsite in time to see the Ireland – France game, I decided to follow the other cyclist towards the town centre.

20160626_125108-2La Thuile town centre. There was quite a crowd watching the cyclists as they made their way through La Thuile. There were also quite a few motorists and bikers with no interest in the race but who were stuck behind the barriers and were instead just getting some lunch as they waited for the road to re-open.

Men and women’s podium from the Gran Fondo Monte Bianco. Meanwhile, down the valley in Courmayeur, the winner of the Gran Fondo was just after crossing the finish line. The men’s Gran Fondo race was won by Andrea Gallo who cycled 120 km (2,950m of climbing) in 3 hours and 53 minutes. The women’s Medio Fondo race was won by Olga Cappiello who cycled 95 km (1,950m of climbing) in 3 hrs 22 minutes. The Medio Fondo skipped the Colle San Carlo and so did not go through La Thuile.

gran_fondo_results_top_10medio_fondo_results_top_10Results of Men’s Gran Fondo and Women’s Medio Fondo race. Both the Gran Fondo and Medio Fondo cost €50 to enter and there were 8 age related categories for men and 2 for women with prizes for each category. Over 1,000 cyclists took part in this sportive and many of them would have used it as a warm-up race for the Maratona dles Dolomites the following week-end. The Maratona is one of the biggest sportives in the world and attracts up to 15,000 cyclists from all over the world to the Dolomite region in the north-east of Italy.

virb0046-mp4_snapshot_14-05_2016-09-27_15-36-34Lots of bikers in La Thuile. I watched the cyclists go by for about 10 minutes, then realized if I didn’t get a move on, I would miss the start of the Ireland – France game. As I made my way through the town, I went past lots of bikers who were stopped waiting for the road to re-open. I was keeping my eye out for any cafes with big screen TV’s or any adverts for the Euro 2016 but didn’t spot any. So I decided my best option was to simply carry on to the campsite and try and pick up a TV signal there.

Road being re-opened near to La Thuile. I carried on for about 1 km towards Camping Rotor but had to stop here as there was a barrier across the road. I pulled in behind a police car and started checking my map to see how far it was to the campsite. I was only stopped for a few seconds when all of a sudden, the marshals lifted the barrier onto the pavement and re-opened the road.

virb0046-mp4_snapshot_25-46_2016-09-27_15-43-29Some cyclists taking part in the Gran Fondo. As I made my way to the campsite, I was overtaken by some cyclists who were obviously in the Gran Fondo and at this stage, were about an hour behind the leader.

Camping Rotor in La Thuile. The campsite is named after the Rotor river, which flows past the campsite and also through La Thuile. It was now about an hour before kick-off, so I quickly assembled the tent and tried tuning in my TV tuner. Unfortunately, I couldn’t pick up a TV signal probably because the campsite was on the outskirts of La Thuile and surrounded by trees. The TV reception even in La Thuile would have been weak as the town is at about 1,500m in altitude which is higher than anywhere in Ireland. But my 3G stick was working fine and I was able to open a tab on the Irish Times, 42.ie and BBC Sport websites, all of whom were live blogging the game.

robbie_brady_penalty
Source : UEFA

Probably the best penalty in the world ever. The match was only after kicking off when Ireland were awarded a penalty. Cool as you like, Robbie Brady sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way and Ireland, incredibly were in front. For the next 42 mins of the first half, it was all France as they launched wave after wave of attacks trying to breach the Irish goal. But their efforts came to nothing and Ireland went into the half-time break still leading 1-0.

Everything changed, changed utterly, during the second half. At the start of the second half, Ireland were only 45 minutes away from a place in the quarter finals. But then everything changed, changed utterly, in the space of 5 calamitous minutes. First, Griezmann equalized with a peach of a header. Then he scored again, just 2 minutes later, with a sublime finish after a knockdown from Giroud.  Shortly afterwards, he could have had a third goal only for Shane Duffy’s tackle for which the Derry man received a red card. Down to 10 men for the last half hour, there was no way back for Martin O’Neill’s side and France could have ended up with 5 or 6 goals such was their domination. At half time, my cunning plan not to jinx Ireland by staying in Italy seemed to be working fine. But that all changed in the second half and then I remembered that I had already traveled through France on the Eurostar on my way to Belgium. If only I had flew to Belgium, Ireland may have held on to their 1 goal lead and qualified for the quarter-final against Iceland.

Original plan and revised plan for 2016 Tour de Travoy. With Ireland after being knocked out of Euro 2016, it was now time to re-assess my plans for the next few days.  The original plan had been to cycle south to Nice along the Route des Grandes Alpes and then take the Route Napoleon north to Grenoble before getting a train to Paris to meet up with family on July the 11th. But the Euro 2016 football tournament had played havoc with my schedule. By staying in Switzerland for the Ireland – Italy game and then staying in Italy for the Ireland – France game, I was now about 4 days behind my original schedule. I would have had enough time to complete the Route des Grandes Alpes to Nice and then get a train from there to Paris. But the train would have cost over €100 and I would have to change in Lyon and maybe Avignon, so it was more hassle than it was worth. I had already got 2 trains on this year’s Tour de Travoy, one from London to Belgium and another from Luxembourg to Switzerland so I didn’t want to get any more if I could avoid it. The sensible thing to do was simply cycle 850 km from La Thuile to Paris via the Petit St Bernard pass. I had 15 days to make it to Beauvais airport so only had to average about 60 km per day. The new plan also meant I could stop for a day or two if the weather turned bad. The gears on my bike were still acting up and the last place you want to be stuck with limited gears is the middle of the Alps. Also the French train drivers were threatening to strike the weekend of the Euro 2016 final so I could have been totally stuck in Nice if they went through with their threat. So, all-in-all, it was a no-brainer to simply cycle to Paris from La Thuile and leave the Route des Grandes Alpes to another year when I would have more time.

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